Saturday, December 22, 2007

Glory to God in the Highest

Am I mentioned in scripture?

Luke 2:

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Many years ago someone asked me, "Do you think you were there?" Given the doctrine of the pre-mortal life, it makes perfect sense that perhaps many of those who were yet to be born were among those praising God.

I don't know if it's doctrinal, but ever since that question was raised to me, I have thought of it each time I read or hear this scripture. The thought that I might have witnessed and participated in this glorious moment is moving to me, and brings a deeper appreciation for the original Christmas story.

May I always be found exclaiming in my heart, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

On Religious Tolerance


Saturday, December 15, 2007

All I Want For Christmas Is...

My almost-one-year-old son has always been big. He was born big and he's still big. As a result, he goes through clothes fast. He was already too big for his infant clothes when he was born. Now, he's already wearing 2T to 3T clothes. That means we've gone through a lot of sizes in the last year, and it always seems we're a step behind and his clothes are always too small.

My almost-four-year old daughter hears us say often, "This shirt is just too small. We really need to get him some new clothes." Although I never knew how much she had been thinking about it until her Grandma took her to the mall to see Santa. When we picked her up from Grandma's house we, of course, asked her what she told Santa that she wanted for Christmas.

"I asked for new clothes for baby brother." she said. I don't think I've ever heard of asking for something for your siblings from Santa, but the request gets even more unique: "But I want him to give them to me so that I can give them to him."

That's a very peculiar request indeed. But surely Santa will be accommodating to the desire of a little girl to help her brother. I just wonder what she will think in 20 years when we watch the Christmas video and she sees that Santa got her little boy clothes. It never ceases to amaze me how much she loves her brother. My kids are a great example to me of brotherly, and sisterly, love.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Building the Kingdom, Stone by Stone

At the start of my mission I was struggling to reconcile how much effort we were expending--physical and otherwise--and how little progress we were seeing while trying to build up a small branch. Somehow, I thought of the builders of the Salt Lake Temple. It took them 40 years to build the temple, and my understanding is that it was all done by the general membership, without pay. I imagined what it would be like to work in the quarry--cutting stones every day and sending them off the in the wagon. Did those guys feel like they were making a difference? Did they feel like they were building the kingdom? Perhaps they did, but I imagine there were some days where they felt like all of the hard work was yielding slow, if any, progress. What about the skilled artists who carved the stone designs? I imagine their job was slightly more rewarding, but still after several years it would have become monotonous. A person who was 20 when the building began would have been 60 when it finished. The fact that it was finished is a testament to the faith and diligence of the people.

Of course there are many stories of faith in Mormon history, the most obvious of which is the Mormon pioneers with their handcarts walking across the continent seeking religious freedom. But what makes the building of the temple special as well is that it was not under extreme circumstances. These were normal people, going about their normal, daily lives, who were also doing something great over a long period of time.

Now, whenever I feel like progress is going slow, I think of the man in the quarry.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

See That Ye Be Not Troubled

This post isn't about global warming, but it starts there.

A while back I realized that I didn't know how a felt about global warming. I knew a lot of people thought it was a big deal, and others didn't. It was hard for me to accept that an issue this grounded in science could be so divisive. It's not like the abortion issue, in which one's position depended entirely on a question that can only be answered by the conscience (when does human life begin?). So I felt confident I could find the "right" answer to this issue. I began researching (OK, I'm using that term liberally). I rented An Inconvenient Truth. I watched The Great Global Warming Swindle. I read State of Fear by Michael Crichton. I checked out books from the library, and of course I googled it.

After about 50 hours of "research", I have made a decision on my position... I don't know. It's roughly the same position I had when I began, but now at least it's an informed "I don't know". Both sides of the debate have valid arguments, but both sides also misinform and are too quick to brush off the other side's arguments. The debate is too political to discover the truth.

There's something I love about the position of "I don't know". It's a position I hold for other issues as well, such as embryonic stem-cell research. The trouble with "I don't know" is that it's difficult to form a policy around, or to use it to figure out who to vote for ("I don't know" is not a popular position for politicians). However, "I don't know" is great fun for debates. Whenever the issue comes up (usually after being around extended family for too long), I can just take the other side from whoever is debating me. In my family, that usually makes me the global warming activist.

I was debating with my brother on this when he brought up an argument that both interested and disturbed me. While not central to his argument, it's the piece that I remember most, probably because I had never heard the argument before. It goes something like this:

Since we believe we live in the latter days (as evidenced from the name of our church), what we think might happen far in the future is irrelevant. When Christ comes, the earth will be transformed and global warming won't be an issue.

I have a problem with this argument for several reasons.

First, we don't know when Christ will come. If it's another 500 years, we can cause a lot of human suffering during that time.

Second, it's true that we believe that the earth will be transformed in some way when Christ comes, but it's not clear to me exactly what it will be like and how it will happen. Perhaps, instead of changing in the twinkling of an eye, the earth will require some help from us. I imagine a child waking up on a winter's morning to see snow outside. Excited to play he hurries to get on his snow pants and boots. Then his mother comes in: "You're not going anywhere until you clean up your room." Could that be what happens when Christ comes? "We'll start the millennium when you've cleaned up the mess you've made!"

Thirdly, and most importantly, are the implications of this argument on other issues (see, I told this post wasn't about global warming--it just took me a while to get to the point). Should we not worry about the national debt because when Christ comes, the fact that we owe China billions of dollars won't matter? Should we not worry about stability in the middle east, since we know when Christ comes all will be made well, and in fact it is prophesied that there will be wars in the latter times? We could apply the same reasoning to any other issue with long-term consequences. Surely we should not ignore every issue with the excuse of "When Christ comes, all will be well."

I felt confident that I had successfully recognized that argument as flawed and irrational. But today, over a year after my discussion with my brother, the scripture came to mind where Jesus is talking about the wars and great calamities that will happen during the latter days before his second coming when he said:

See that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass. (Matthew 24:6)

So how exactly does one become anxiously engaged in a good cause without first being troubled by it? Would I be pro-life if abortion didn't trouble me? Could my brother have been right all this time? Should we all just not worry so much and wait for Christ to come? Something tells me that's not what Jesus meant, but maybe that's just how I want to read it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thoughts on "The Speech": Let's Move On

I didn't start my blog to talk about politics, and I'm rather tired of hearing about Romney's Mormon problem. So I promise this will be my last post on Romney. (OK, I don't promise, but I don't intend to make this a political blog). But I felt I had to say something since my last post was critical of him and I think he did a great job today giving "The Speech".

This post is not an attempt at a full analysis. Probably everything I would want to say has already been said by some pundit, blogger, or commenter.

But let me try to counter some of the negatives I've been hearing, particularly from those that share my faith and his.

Romney said, "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." I can see how the statement "Freedom requires religion" might be strange. I wish he had elaborated a bit. I also agree that the speech was a bit off-putting to less religious folk. But he is a politician and he needs the evangelical vote, so what do you expect? Still, I find it strange that some in the LDS community are critical of that statement. Our own scriptures say that only by choosing to follow Christ can we find liberty. Now, it might be stretching it a bit to extend that scripture to include the kind of freedom Romney was talking about, but at least the idea should be familiar to Mormons.

Second, Romney is being criticized by Mormons for saying "When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God." But what about temple covenants? some Mormons say. As for me, I would not vote for anyone who didn't believe that being president was his or her highest responsibility. I'd ask those who criticize him for saying this, "How should a Mormon run for President then? Can it even be done?"

If I were deciding whether or not to run for president (Heaven forbid!), I would do so after much thought, discussion with my family, and prayer. If I could not say that being the president would be my highest responsibility, above even my religious commitments and my family, I would not run. Mrs. Romney has commented in the past (I apologize I'm too much into my rant to look up the reference) about how one of the things that Mitt worried about was that by being president, he would have a higher obligation to the country than even his own family. The family made the decision that the sacrifice was worth it. And I don't criticize him for that. The office of the president is very important to the world. The president has the power to do a lot of good in the world or cause a lot of harm. Any of us who are committed to serving others and being engaged in a good cause, as the church teaches, would not be fulfilling our duty if we did not commit to the office 100% if we had the unique opportunity and responsibility of being president.

On top of this, consider that there is no practical situation imaginable where the oath of the president and Mitt Romney's temple covenants could possibly conflict. Will he be put in a position where he has to commit adultery for the good of the country? Give me a break. This argument then, is purely idealogical. And running for president is not for idealists.

I thought the speech was wonderful. I wouldn't have said anything differently. OK, maybe the freedom requiring religion part was a bit strange, and maybe at least mention the possibility that those still searching for truth have value too, but moving on... This will be the test to see if his speech was successful: Are we still talking about Mitt's Mormon problem two weeks from now? If so, he failed, but not for any shortcoming of his own. At least now, when questioned about his religion he can just smile and say, "Read my speech."

I apologize for the political rank. I now return to my irregularly scheduled blogging.